Donald Trump’s transition to the White House appeared to be in disarray on Tuesday after the abrupt departure of a top national security adviser and amid continuing questions over the role of his three children and son-in-law.
Former Republican congressman Mike Rogers stepped down from the president-elect’s transition team without explanation, but one report attributed it to a “Stalinesque purge”.
Late on Tuesday, Trump attempted to paint a less chaotic picture, tweeting that the transition process was “very organized”. He also wrote that only he knew who “the finalists” were – seemingly an attempt to liken the process to his reality TV show The Apprentice.
Rogers chaired the House intelligence committee and is a former army officer and FBI special agent. He said he was proud of the work his team had done to produce policy and personnel guidance “on the complex national security challenges facing our great country”.
NBC News quoted a source as saying Rogers was the victim of a “Stalinesque purge” of people close to Christie. “Two sources close to the situation described an atmosphere of sniping and backbiting as Trump loyalists position themselves for key jobs,” the network reported.
Some Republicans who previously ostracised Trump are returning to the fold but not always with success. Eliot Cohen, a senior state department official under George W Bush, launched a stinging attack on the transition effort. He tweeted:
“After exchange [with] Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”
A few days ago, Cohen had encouraged the suspicious Republican foreign policy establishment to rally around the president-elect.
Adding to the sense of chaos, both the state department and Pentagon said they were yet to hear from the incoming administration, while rumours swirled over whether Trump’s children – Donald Jr, Eric, and Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner – would seek top security clearances. Kushner was said to have been instrumental in the departures of Christie and Rogers.
The New York Times reported that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, an old friend of Trump, is the frontrunner for the prize job of secretary of state. He has no foreign policy experience beyond strong advocacy for the war on terror following the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, which gave him global prominence.
But the political action committee Correct the Record argued that Giuliani, 72, had a “long history of business ties to enemies of America”. He was reportedly paid to advocate on behalf of an Iranian dissident group while it was listed by the state department as a foreign terrorist organisation and worked for a law firm whose clients included Saddam Hussein, terrorist Abu Nidal and an oil company controlled by the then Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. All these are potential red flags if he goes before the Senate for confirmation.
Trump’s children will take over the running of his business while he is in the White House, raising the prospect of a conflict of interest. Responding to claims that they are already exploiting his new status for commercial ends, the former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted: “Free advice: Stop it. Don’t do this. The presidency is bigger than the family business. Just stop it.”
Trump, a tycoon, reality TV star and political novice, has a long history of pitting rivals against one another, both in business and during his election campaign. He has appointed Steve Bannon as chief strategist and Reince Priebus as chief of staff, an unprecedented arrangement that threatens to create competing centers of power.
The inclusion of Bannon, executive chairman of the far-right Breitbart News, provoked a furious backlash from progressives. The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, said: “There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration.”